Success doesn’t form in a vacuum

Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do I, which is why I leave mine in the closet. But if success doesn’t form in a vacuum, where does it come from?

Success and failure are part of the same process and it’s called growth. Lots of failure happens on the way to success. Success might be the end result, but it only happened after trying lots of things that didn’t work, or didn’t work quite right. 

Right now there’s a big conference going on with lots of advice on how to be a success. Everybody wants to be a success. We’re even advised very strongly as writers to only talk about our successes because we wouldn’t want to give anybody the impression that we ever *gasp* fail. Because then we would be FAILURES and LOSERS and nobody would ever publish us again. Nobody will ever love us again, either, and we’ll die friendless and alone in our unvacuumed hovels.

Or maybe we could just put aside the drama around success and failure and look at it as a process. When a book has a false start, stalls, takes a wrong turn, that’s called writing a book. It happens. If it was easy, everybody would do it. The way to get to a successfully completed book is to not give up and keep trying different things until you get to the end.

Careers have false starts, stalls, and wrong turns, too. If you quit there it might be called failure. Or it might be what you needed to push you into discovering your real strengths and going on to greater success. Let’s face it, most of us wouldn’t ever change if we didn’t have to. If something works, we keep doing it. Failure tells us we need to try something else. Failure leads to experimentation, discovery, exploration. You can learn a lot from failure, a lot more than you can by accidentally stumbling on success and then having no idea how to recreate it.

5 Things for Thursday

1. I need to start putting out the trash the night before. Because sprinting to the curb while rolling a full can in 97% humidity is more of a workout than I need early in the morning.

2. I’m guesting over at Genreality today on
The Write Stuff
. I was also there Monday talking about storytelling with Tarot. I’ll be there next Thursday, too. This time of year the alternate gets a workout while Genreality regulars travel.

3. I’d like to be traveling. I plan to in August.

4. I’m cleaning out and organizing the kids’ room. This is not a task for the faint-hearted. It is time to sort out the outgrown clothes/shoes/coats/toys and fill a donation box so they actually have room for the clothes/shoes/toys they use now.

5. And lastly, I am doing some online shopping because my appearance is boring me. I found some fun shirts, like
this one
. Or
this one
. Also, my 7 yr old may have convinced me to go back to coloring my hair. I think the white streaks are scaring her into thinking I’m old and about to die instead of just prematurely white.

What about you? Organizing, traveling, updating your look?

The Artist’s Way, lessons in layers

If you’re playing along, this is the beginning of week 2 of The Artist’s Way. A couple of things really struck me as I read Chapter Two this time around, three ways that it’s easy for a pro to unintentionally create blocks. You learn these lessons in layers as you grow and advance through your career, so I wanted to talk a little about pro pitfalls vs how the same points appear before that first sale.

Page 55 lists the “Rules of the Road”. Out of these 10 rules, 2 really jumped out at me. They are: Fill the well, and set gentle goals and reach them.

As a beginner, you might deal with filling the well pretty easily. You’re making time to write on top of your other responsibilities, but you haven’t yet added publishing’s workload. Life balance is workable. But after that first sale, you’re still writing the next book. And you’re also doing revisions, copyediting, proof-reading, dealing with cover art, a million website updates and promotional issues.

Chances are the first sale didn’t allow you to quit your day job. So your time just got a lot tighter. To compensate, maybe you stop spending time on your hobbies, going to movies, reading for fun. This seems like the logical place to trim time, but it’s a terrible move for your creative longevity. Those “time-wasting” activities are the very things that fill your well and allow you to keep writing the next book plus juggling everything else. So your very first move as a pro is to unintentionally set yourself up to get blocked.

Our next pitfall is setting gentle goals. You do this long before that first sale, so it seems like something you’ve got down. Until you sell, and the editor wants your next proposal in a week. Or the full in six weeks. Or a novella for an anthology that will really help expose you to a broader readership and gain more interest in the connected novel but you’ll have to squeeze it in with all your other commitments. Or your agent really wants Hot Idea in Hot Genre right now so it can be shopped at Current Big Industry Event.

You say yes, because you want to impress Agent and Editor, you want to take advantage of Better Time Slot or Excellent Anthology Opportunity, you desperately want to sell in Hot Genre. You’re already worried about career longevity because you’re not stupid and you know most first novelists never sell a second book. You don’t want to say no to anything. But if the time frames for delivery aren’t reasonable, you’re better off saying no than setting yourself up for burnout and ultimately becoming blocked.

Which leads us to the next issue. “Often our creativity is blocked by falling into other people’s plans for us.” Again, pretty easy to cope with as a beginner. You catch on to the critique partner who hates your genre and keeps trying to get you to write like a literary novelist. You learn to say no to the friend or family member who always needs you to take on some responsibility to fill up the time you’ve set aside to write.

Then comes that first sale and everything changes. When the person who has plans for you is your editor or your agent, it’s a much more subtle issue. Are they really helping you grow creatively and build your career? Or are they pushing you in the wrong direction? You don’t want to disagree and risk losing your agent, your publisher, your fledgling career. But if you only have a career by saying yes to everything no matter how you feel about it deep inside, you’re not building a stable career anyway. Or not one you’re going to want once you’ve built it, even if you don’t end up catastrophically blocked in the process. It’s easy to believe experts know more, but now more than ever, it’s just not true. Nobody knows where things are going, but you can at least know how to be true to yourself. 

The way circumstances and the guises common pitfalls will appear in change so much through your creative life that you’ll always be learning these same lessons in new layers. Which is why after 18 titles in print and 10 years since my first time through it, I’m still learning something from The Artist’s Way.

The Artist’s Way and you

Since Alison Kent started up another round of The Artist’s Way and reminded me that it’s a good thing to do once in a while, it seems like a good time to talk about why to do it, how to do it, etc.

First you get the book by Julia Cameron. But you don’t just read it. It’s an activity book. Read the introductory pages that give background information and explain what it’s about, then chapter one. The end of each chapter has a list of tasks to do for that week. Every week you do morning pages (daily writing about whatever is on your mind) and artist dates (any activity that feeds your senses) in addition to the weekly tasks. It takes 12 weeks to work through, at the end of which you have built some good creative habits and learned a few things about your creativity.

The hardest habit to build, I think, is the artist date. It’s essential for continually gaining new input and feeding the senses so that you have a stock of inspiration to create from. If you are a busy working parent, you might have to do what I do, which is resort to mini artist dates. I try to do this daily for five minutes. I listen to music that inspires me, or go take a picture, or sketch out something I want to paint, or sit on the garden bench and just look and listen and feel. Artist dates don’t have to cost anything, or even go anywhere. Your own backyard can be full of things to discover with new eyes.

Morning pages aren’t hard for me, but I’ve been writing daily in a journal since I was 12. The habit is pretty ingrained. I don’t write 3 pages longhand since I lost the ability to write longhand years ago to tendonitis. I don’t believe there is any magic to longhand vs. typing, but your mileage may vary. Try it both ways and see which you like.

The important thing with The Artist’s Way, like any creative tool or “rule”, is to use it in a way that works for you. If you can’t go off by yourself for an hour to do a formal artist date, take 5 minutes and be informal. If you can’t handwrite, type. Or dictate.

If you’re an author, the ability to write in a way that isn’t a. for sale or b. a performance is really liberating. And you can take the freedom you experience in your journal back to your for pay/for public work. Try it and see.

If you’re checking in with a group weekly, it can be interesting to hear about other people’s experiences. You can also do it quietly alone. However you do it, if you actually work through the book you will be in a better creative place at the end of 12 weeks. And if you are like me and considering doing it for the 3rd or 5th time (I’ve lost track), you still have new things to learn about your creative process and how to work with it now.

5 random things

1. Alison Kent is coordinating a trip through The Artist’s Way. If you want to play along, watch her blog!

2. I downloaded Amanda Palmer’s ukelele Radiohead cover album yesterday. Love it. And the music is oddly perfect for a certain project of mine.

3. It rained last night, and now it’s in the 60s and overcast with a breeze, and why can’t it be like this all the time?

4. Bought a salad bowl from the farmer’s market this week, ingenius. It’s a planting bowl full of salad greens you keep harvesting as it regrows. I planted 3 kinds of greens in the garden and wasn’t happy with any of them. Next year I might just do a salad bowl.

5. From TED, the
politics of fiction